HEATHCOTE, Gilbert (1652-1733), of St. Swithin’s Lane, London; Leyton, Essex, and Normanton, Rutland

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1 - 22 Feb. 1701
Dec. 1701 - 1710
1715 - 1722
27 Oct. 1722 - 1727
1727 - 25 Jan. 1733

Family and Education

b. 2 Jan. 1652, 1st s. of Gilbert Heathcote of Chesterfield, Derbys. by Anne, da. of George Dickons of Chesterfield.  m. 30 May 1682, Hester (d. 1714), da. and h. of Christopher Rayner, merchant, of London, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 4da. (2 d.v.p.)  suc. fa. 1690; kntd. 29 Oct. 1702; cr. Bt. 17 Jan. 1733.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Vintners’ Co. 1681, master 1700; common councilman, London 1689–?1702, alderman 1702–d., sheriff 1703–4, ld. mayor 1710–11.2

Agent for Jamaica 1693–1704.3

Commr. taking subscriptions to Bank 1694, Greenwich Hosp. 1695, taking subscriptions to New E. I. Co. loan 1698, 50 new churches 1715–27; trustee, Exchequer bills 1697, receiving loan to the Emperor 1706.4

Dir. Bank of England 1694–d. (with statutory intervals), gov. 1709–11, 1723–5; dir. New E. I. Co. 1698–1704; manager, united trade 1702–4, 1705–9; treasurer, Eastland Co. 1697–9, gov. by 1719; member, Russia Co. 1699.5

FRS 1705.6

Pres. Hon. Artillery Co. 1720–d., St. Thomas’ Hosp. 1722–d.7


Probably the most successful merchant of his generation, Heathcote attained pre-eminence in the City. The establishment of the Bank and of the New East India Company were his greatest achievements, but his influence was felt in many other spheres of commerce, and several administrations sought his financial support and advice. He personified the qualities of the self-made man, gaining a reputation for uncompromising behaviour, as well as for extreme parsimony. The Presbyterian bookseller John Dunton painted a most sympathetic picture of his political views by suggesting that ‘he is no bigot to any party’, but Heathcote’s vast wealth and outspoken Whig opinions ensured him the lasting enmity of the City Tories. In his last years he was hailed as one of ‘the true old friends to the Revolution and the Protestant Succession’, having remained loyal to his party throughout a long political career.8

Heathcote, who came from a well-established family of Chesterfield, Derbyshire, was the eldest son of an ironmonger who had achieved the status of local alderman. His father had fought against the crown in the Civil War, and was removed from office by the Corporation Act commissioners in 1663, an expulsion which suggests Nonconformist sympathies. Heathcote’s own religious views remained a subject of debate throughout his life, for although there is no evidence that he ever attended conventicles, he was a close associate of leading City Nonconformists such as Arthur Shallett*, and supported the London corporation of the poor, which had strong Dissenting links. Henry Compton, bishop of London, regarded Heathcote as no friend to the Established Church, but his verdict was at odds with that of Dunton, who thought Sir Gilbert ‘a zealous Church of England man’. However, despite this confusion, Heathcote was clearly viewed as a supporter of toleration, and even Dunton observed that ‘he loves and respects his fellow citizens, not as Churchmen, Presbyterians, Independents, but as honest men’.9

At the age of 19 Heathcote began his mercantile apprenticeship overseas, and it was only in 1680 that he returned to England to set himself up as a City trader. Having served as a factor at Stockholm, he quickly established himself as a Baltic merchant, but diversified into other ventures, aided by his six brothers, who all went on to become ‘eminent merchants’. He rose quickly in the Mediterranean wine trade, and also revealed a great interest in Caribbean commerce, forging particularly strong links with Jamaica. He had evidently become a figure of some note within the City by the time of the Revolution, since in 1689 he was elected a common councilman, and rapidly established himself among the Whig leaders in that assembly. As early as August 1689 he called for the might of France to be checked by an attack on their West Indian colonies, and maintained this belligerent attitude towards the French for most of his career. He was also prepared to advance his fortune in the interest of the Williamite regime, making several loans to the government in April 1690, totalling £4,575.10

The breadth and scale of Heathcote’s trading activities quickly brought him to the attention of the 1690 Parliament, which granted him and his partner Arthur Shallett a special exemption to import brandy from Spain. In April 1692 the governors of Jamaica acknowledged his importance as a trader by requesting his aid to solicit their affairs in the capital, and the following year, having been appointed their official agent, he presented an address from the island to the Queen. He had also established links with New York by 1694, helping to raise and clothe recruits to defend the colony. However, during the 1690s Heathcote gained most prominence through his connexions with East Indian commerce. As early as October 1691 he acted as one of the committee of the interlopers in the trade, and subsequently emerged as a vociferous opponent of the monopoly of the East India Company. In January 1694 he appeared at the bar of the Commons to complain that, at the company’s instigation, London customs officers had impounded one of his ships on suspicion of it being en route to the East Indies. He subsequently gained much celebrity for boldly declaring on 6 Jan. that he ‘did not think it any sin to trade to the East Indies, and would trade thither, till there was an Act of Parliament to the contrary’; more importantly, he also received the backing of the Commons for his stance.11

Heathcote and his interloping allies soon had further cause for celebration when the government accepted their proposal to establish the Bank of England. As one of the chief promoters of the scheme, he was duly appointed a commissioner to take the first subscription for the Bank, and subsequently became one of its founding directors after finishing second in the election for the board. His activity within the London corporation brought him less welcome publicity, for on 12 Mar. 1695 his name was cited by the report of the Commons’ committee investigating corruption surrounding the passage of the Act to relieve the London orphans. Heathcote had been appointed in January 1694 to the City committee to procure the Act, but he claimed that he had never attended any of its meetings, and had only followed the example of others when signing an order to pay a gratuity to the Speaker Sir John Trevor. On 28 Mar. he gave further testimony to the House, having been summoned to testify to the inquiry into the bribery practised by the East India Company. In December 1695 he had another opportunity to advance the cause of the interlopers when the Lords considered the Scottish act to establish the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies, and he signed a petition from the merchants of the Leeward Islands calling for the East India trade to be opened up as a means to combat the Scottish company. The following month he and his allies maintained this pressure by submitting a petition to the Lords requesting the establishment of a regulated company for the East India trade.12

Heathcote’s prominence within the Bank ensured that for much of 1695 he was closely involved in the debates surrounding the recoinage. In March he informed the Duke of Shrewsbury that between £800,000 and £1,000,000 had been lost through ‘the villainous trades of defacing and clipping our coin’, and such concern argues for his identification as the ‘Mr Heathcote’ who six months later was summoned by the lords justices to discuss the coinage. Heathcote actually published a treatise in 1695 which recommended the issue of paper currency while the old coin was recalled and new minted, and warned of the dangers of devaluing the silver standard, pointing to the disaster of the Swedish experiment of 1677. The following year he went into print again, advising caution concerning the price of guineas. The lords justices may also have sought his advice in May 1696, for they ordered that ‘Mr Heathcote’ was to determine which orphan fund managers and foreign merchants might assist ‘in the maintaining of credit’.13

The government had further call on Heathcote’s mercantile expertise after his election in April 1697 as one of the trustees for the circulation of Exchequer bills, a scheme to which he subsequently advanced £2,000. He also became one of the contractors for the collection of plate for minting coin, but this enterprise caused him much discomfort at the Bank elections in July, when rumours were ‘industriously carried to the several clubs’ that he had used his position in the Bank to secure advantageous terms for his fellow contractors. Such allegations evidently damaged his reputation, since he finished a lowly 22nd in the poll, only just gaining re-election as director. James Vernon I* felt sympathy for him, lamenting that Heathcote and other ‘useful men’ had fared badly in these contests. Understandably concerned for his good name, he went into print at the end of the year to clear himself. However, his association with the Bank was generally of great personal benefit, and it has been estimated that between 1697 and 1700 he made some £60,000 from his Bank investment.14

Heathcote continued to seek new commercial opportunities, becoming one of the contractors for the lucrative tobacco trade to Russia. However, the opposition of the Russia Company threatened to undermine their plans, and thus on 27 May 1698 he appeared before the council for trade and the plantations to seek its support to overcome the opposition of the Upper House to a bill to enlarge the Russia Company. He received little joy there, and four days later his name appeared on a petition of merchants submitted to the Lords requesting that the Russia Company end its campaign against the tobacco contract. He was even reported to have broached the scheme with Czar Peter during the latter’s visit to England, addressing him in Dutch concerning the likely objections of the Orthodox Church to the import of tobacco. His plans for the East India trade met with far greater success, however, for the summer of 1698 saw the creation of the New East India Company. James Vernon I identified Heathcote as one of the three ‘great promoters’ of the New Company, and he was appointed one of the receivers for the £2 million subscription raised to establish it. He advanced £10,000 for the new scheme, and emerged at the top of the poll for the first board of directors. Other members of his family advanced a further £27,000 to the scheme, thereby firmly cementing Heathcote influence in the company.15

Also that summer Heathcote mounted his first campaign to gain a seat at Westminster. In June he was elected as one of the London sheriffs alongside his fellow vintner and New Company partner Samuel Shepheard I*, but both merchants paid fines to avoid office, evidently aware that the post would preclude their candidacy at the forthcoming parliamentary election. Neither gained a seat, however, Heathcote finishing fifth, only 99 votes behind the fourth-placed Thomas Papillon*. Despite this disappointment, Heathcote remained a prominent figure in City politics, gaining appointment in February 1699 as one of the committee selected by the New East India Company to treat with the Old Company.16

Continuing divisions over the East India trade had a decisive influence on the outcome of the City’s parliamentary election of January 1701, where Heathcote stood in the Whig interest. He finished second in the contest, but in the new Parliament supporters of the Old Company sought his removal as part of their campaign to reverse the gains made by the New Company at the polls. As trustees for the Exchequer bills, both Heathcote and Sir Henry Furnese* were labelled by their rivals as placemen, even though existing legislation did not explicitly debar such officers from the House. Furnese was dismissed on 19 Feb. and three days later Heathcote defended himself in the Commons, arguing that he ‘was informed and advised that he was not within the said clause, and hoped that he having acted in the said trust honestly, he should have the favourable construction of the House’. However, his arguments were to no avail and the vote to expel him was carried. Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, thought these proceedings highly irregular, and believed that both Furnese and Heathcote would have escaped expulsion if the House had first of all examined the case of the ‘well beloved’ Heathcote. On the day of his expulsion a parliamentary list predictably bracketed Heathcote with the supporters of the Court to agree with the resolution of the committee of supply to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’. Two days later the Treasury was informed that he wished to resign as a trustee, and on 25 Feb. it was reported that he was keen to stand for re-election. However, he found that he could not leave office before 28 Apr., and was thus unable to contest the ensuing by-election. Against the wishes of the Treasury, he did resign as trustee soon afterwards, but the new commission issued later that year featured his brother John.17

Even though out of the House, Heathcote can certainly be identified with growing Whig calls for war against France, for in May 1701 he wrote to James Vernon I to warn him of a possible French attack on Jamaica, luridly condemning ‘the constant treachery of the French’. Later that year he finished at the top of the poll in a Whig-dominated City election, but made little impact in the ensuing Parliament. The accession of Anne generally spelt disaster for the City Whigs, but Heathcote enjoyed great success under the new monarch. In June 1702 he finally gained admission to the aldermanic bench, and two months later came second in the London parliamentary election, the only Whig to be returned for the capital. Furthermore, in October he was knighted when the Queen attended the mayor’s banquet at the Guildhall. He again remained inconspicuous in the House, although appointed to the drafting committee on a bill to regulate malted corn consumption and the trade of French brandy. He also maintained the Whig party line, voting on 17 Feb. 1703 for the Lords’ amendments to the bill to extend the period for taking the abjuration oath.18

In August 1703 Heathcote betrayed a typically bellicose attitude towards the French, regarding the division of the crowns of France and Spain as ‘her Majesty’s glorious design . . . without which we are undone’. During the subsequent session he also revealed a particular anxiety about the shortage of sailors to man the mercantile marine, gaining appointment on 27 Nov. to the committee to prepare the heads of a bill to increase the numbers of seamen, and arguing in committee on 4 Dec. that the navigation laws would have to be relaxed to allow more foreigners to serve on English vessels. He also supplied the House with an account of the East India Company’s export of bullion. His commercial concerns were equally reflected by his activity in the third session of this Parliament, when he was appointed to the committees to draft bills to prohibit trade with France, and to encourage the importation of American naval stores.19

At the beginning of that third session Heathcote’s politics were confirmed by a parliamentary list of 30 Oct. 1704 which forecast him as a likely opponent of the Tack, and on 28 Nov. he either voted against it or was absent. During that session he actively promoted several personal interests, advising the Vintners’ Company against the insertion of a clause into a bill to prevent the adulteration of wines. He also acted on behalf of the City to arbitrate in a dispute between Gresham College and the Royal Society concerning a bill to redevelop the college. Heathcote was keen to see agreement between the two institutions, but appeared more willing to back the Royal Society, believing its fame to be for ‘the general advantage of the City of London’. No resolution was achieved in that session, but his efforts were later acknowledged by the society, which elected him a fellow. Money matters also featured high on his list of priorities, since he was appointed to drafting committees on bills to increase the number of brokers, and to prevent commercial frauds, while he subsequently managed a bill to relieve the creditors of a notorious bankrupt. He was also concerned for the preservation of law and order, presenting a bill to provide an alternative punishment to cheek-burning and to reward those abetting the arrest of burglars. In the final days of the Parliament he was chosen as one of the Members to attend a conference with the Lords concerning their amendments to a bill to prevent correspondence with enemy powers.20

At the City election of May 1705 Heathcote led his party’s revival, emerging at the head of a poll which saw all four Whig candidates returned. An analyst of the new Parliament identified him as ‘No Church’, and Heathcote voted on 25 Oct. for the Court candidate in the contest for the Speakership. In addition, he spoke in debate on 15 Jan. 1706 in the committee of the whole on the regency bill, and on 18 Feb. supported the Court during proceedings over the ‘place clause’ in the bill. During the session he showed a customary interest in advancing commercial legislation, influencing the passage of bills to permit the use of cloth buttons for military uniforms, to regulate watermen on the Thames, to prevent Turkish imports in French ships, and to permit the importation of a cargo of French wine. Moreover, on 12 Feb. 1706 he was ordered to prepare an address on the Newfoundland trade. He also paid close attention to constituency matters, presenting a bill to regulate surgeries in London and Westminster, serving on the drafting committee on a bill to settle the tithes of a London parish, and reporting from committee on a petition relating to a recent riot in Southwark. He was again involved in the regulation of the City, managing a bill to prevent frauds committed by bankrupts, and he also gained appointment to the committee for a conference with the Lords concerning a bill to amend the law.21

In February 1706 Heathcote was appointed a trustee to receive the loan to the Emperor, and, having subscribed £4,000 to the scheme, subsequently acted as one of the managers to remit the money to the Continent. During the following summer these responsibilities gave him the opportunity to pass on his congratulations directly to the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), lauding the general on his ‘glorious conquests’. During the next session Heathcote was preoccupied with familiar concerns, reporting in February 1707 from the committee considering the abuses arising from the Act to prevent frauds committed by bankrupts. Moreover, he subsequently acted as the manager of a bill to explain and amend that Act, and helped to draft a private bill to relieve the creditors of a bankrupt. In addition his mercantile interests rendered him an obvious choice for the committee to inquire into piracy in the East and West Indies. He did not neglect his City constituents either, moving on 23 Mar. 1707 that gunpowder should not be stored near London Bridge or in Southwark, and becoming closely involved in the subsequent passage of a bill to prevent the dangers of carrying or storing gunpowder in the capital. During the session he had discussed the reform of the London lieutenancy with Robert Harley*, and was appointed a colonel of the London militia. His City status was certainly acknowledged by one observer in July, who described him as ‘sovereign of the New Company’, and noted that he ‘holds great sway in the City’.22

Even though Heathcote remained a leading government financier, advancing £3,500 for the annuity loan of 1707, in the course of the year he expressed grave concern at its administration of the war. In the spring he anxiously petitioned over the ‘terrible disasters’ which had recently befallen the Jamaica trade, and joined with other merchants to censure the ill-timing of the convoys sent to escort their ships. In late November his son John† appeared before a Commons’ committee to complain of the Admiralty’s handling of the Russia convoy the preceding summer, and in a committee of the whole on 4 Dec. Sir Gilbert seconded a motion suggesting that the charges against the Admiralty had been proven. Two days later he moved that the inquiry had sustained allegations of misconduct with regard to losses incurred by Jamaican merchants, but was not seconded. On 13 Dec. he again supported a motion condemning the Admiralty, but met with a similar lack of success.23

Given such outspokenness, it was no surprise that much of the legislative activity in which Heathcote was involved in the 1707–8 session dealt with the protection of trade. He helped to draft bills to secure American trade, to protect commerce, and to revive the Naval Discipline Act, to prevent the smuggling of French wine, to extend the East India Company Act, to repeal the Garbling Act, and for the importation of cochineal in neutral ships. He was also an obvious choice on 24 Mar. 1708 among the MPs required to draft a bill to regulate elections at the Bank. Although critical of the Admiralty, he remained loyal to the Court but on 1 Apr. he opposed a motion to thank Prince George for marshalling the fleet against the threat of invasion.24

Heathcote’s criticism of the Admiralty had evidently created no antipathy between himself and his party allies, for two parliamentary lists of early 1708 identified him as a Whig, and in May he stood for the Whigs at the London election, finishing second in the poll. At the beginning of the new Parliament he was appointed on 22 Nov. to the committee on the Address, and four days later was selected as one of the Members to consider the accounts of cruisers and convoys. Thereafter he appeared most concerned to advance the nation’s fisheries, sitting on drafting committees on bills to encourage that industry, to ascertain the duties for fish cured with foreign salt, and to regulate the allowances for fish oil taken as prize. Other commercial measures to benefit from his expertise were bills to prevent the embezzlement of shipwrecked goods, and to establish a regulated Africa company. He was not slow to seek party advantage when opportunity arose, rising in debate on 13 Dec. in the committee of the whole on the land tax bill to ask why an inquiry had not been launched into the subversion of credit at the time of the invasion scare earlier in the year. This was a direct attack on the Tory financiers Sir Francis Child* and Sir Richard Hoare*, who had been accused of promoting a run on the Bank during this emergency, and Heathcote maintained that City confidence had yet to recover. Later in the session he supported the naturalization of the Palatines, and subsequently advised the government over a plan to resettle some of these refugees in Jamaica.25

In 1709 Heathcote was elected governor of the Bank, and due acknowledgment of his City standing was made by Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†), who in September of that year communicated Sir Gilbert’s views on the war to the Duke of Marlborough. Most significantly, Heathcote had begged Godolphin, ‘pray, sir, don’t let us have a rotten peace’, arguing that without the independence of Spain secured ‘we can have no safety’. He also promised the lord treasurer that he would support the government in the pursuit of such a settlement, and his views were subsequently endorsed by Marlborough, who was ‘very much’ of Sir Gilbert’s opinion. Further evidence of his close relationship with the ministry came in July, when the Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) asked him to use his interest in the London corporation to aid a relation. Heathcote was also keen to champion Whig policy in the City, for the following November he reportedly led the opposition in the court of aldermen to a motion to thank Dr Sacheverell for his controversial sermon, insisting that the High Tory minister be ‘called in question for it’.26

In the ensuing session Heathcote duly supported the impeachment of Sacheverell. However, he featured in an even more partisan light on 15 Feb. 1710, when he relayed an information to the House that the allies were preparing to relaunch peace negotiations with the French, and moved that the Queen be addressed to send the Duke of Marlborough to Holland with all speed, observing that ‘he did not know but our allies may play us a trick’. This motion received great opposition from ‘Mr Bromley’ (probably William II*), who objected to the manner in which the news had been communicated to the House ‘by a merchant from another merchant’. This barb earned a stinging riposte from Heathcote, who retorted that ‘he had a greater stake to lose, and paid more taxes than that gentleman’. As a part of a carefully orchestrated Whig coup, his motion passed easily, and the next day he reported from the committee to draft the address, and was subsequently ordered to take it up to the Lords. He remained an active Member in that session, being appointed to seven drafting committees, most of which related to the regulation of trade. In addition, on 23 Feb., he acted as a teller to defeat a motion to engross a bill to build a dock at Liverpool.27

Heathcote had gained many enemies in the course of his career in City politics, but in the summer of 1710 he earned universal condemnation on account of his efforts to prop up the ailing Whig ministry. Following the fall of Lord Sunderland, Heathcote and three other Bank leaders waited on the Queen on 15 June to implore her not to make any further ministerial alterations, arguing that the nation’s credit was endangered by political instability. The Queen responded cautiously, informing them that she had no mind to make any other changes at present, and that she was always concerned to maintain the confidence of the City. Varying accounts of the earnestness of Heathcote’s supplication and of the Queen’s answer circulated in the wake of this interview, but he was generally held to have overstepped the mark by endeavouring to influence royal policy in so direct a manner. Robert Harley thought it ‘of a very extraordinary nature that private gentlemen . . . should have the presumption to take upon them to direct the sovereign’, and even some Bank directors sought to dissociate themselves from Heathcote’s actions. He subsequently justified his conduct in a letter to the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†), one of the lords who had gained him his audience, asserting that the Bank directors had acted ‘with all duty, humility and good manners’, and that ‘if we erred, ’twas in failure of our judgments’. However, great damage had been inflicted on his reputation, and his subsequent relationship with the Harley ministry was fraught.28

During the ensuing election for the London mayoralty Heathcote’s opponents extracted the maximum advantage from the scandal. He was the senior alderman below the chair, and thus it should have been his turn to become mayor, but the City Tories were prepared to go to extreme lengths to thwart him. Such was their dislike of Heathcote that they campaigned for the Whig Sir Robert Beachcroft, hoping thereby to ensure that Heathcote did not emerge at the head of the poll of liverymen at common hall. The new ministry also tried to undermine Sir Gilbert’s position by remodelling the London lieutenancy in favour of the Tories, but the new commission was issued ‘too late to have the intended effect’. Even the minister preaching the election sermon made reference to the dangers of choosing candidates who ‘intruded into her Majesty’s presence with their advices’, and the Tory tactics duly obtained a massive majority for Beachcroft, with Heathcote finishing a distant second. However, the court of aldermen was unmoved by the result and still chose Heathcote as mayor.29

Within a few weeks of this contest Heathcote had to face a reinvigorated Tory campaign at the City’s parliamentary election. As a leading opponent of Sacheverell, he incurred the wrath of the London High Church mobs at the polls, and one hothead went as far as to spit on Sir Gilbert as he emerged from the Guildhall. Heathcote performed strongly in the early stages of the poll, but fell victim to a late Tory rally, and finished sixth. To compound this disappointment, during the election he lost his colonelcy of the London militia. The ensuing celebrations for his lord mayor’s day were understandably restrained, prompting Abel Boyer to observe that Heathcote ‘was not acceptable to the common people, some of whom were so insolent as to insult him in his cavalcade’. However, he may have shown considerable political courage on that occasion, for he was said to have been the last mayor to ride on horseback on the day of his inauguration. Most significantly, the Queen and her Privy Council remained at Hampton Court and did not attend the mayoral feast at Skinners’ Hall, thereby highlighting Heathcote’s unpopularity at court.30

Although the loss of his seat was a blow to Heathcote’s prestige, as the City’s chief magistrate and governor of the Bank he still retained great influence in the capital. Indeed, in September one of Robert Harley’s correspondents blamed the Bank’s obstinacy on the ‘pique and revenge of Heathcote and his party, who now govern the Bank absolutely’. His rivals certainly regarded him as a dangerous opponent, judging by their attempts to discredit him. On 12 Feb. 1711 a Commons’ inquiry into the victualling office reported that Heathcote had charged ‘very high rates’ for remitting supplies to Jamaica between 1702 and 1707, but he issued a sturdy defence of his actions. Only two months later a motion was tabled in the Bank’s general court of stockholders which was critical of Heathcote and the other directors who had attended the Queen the previous June. The motion was ‘suppressed’, however, and the ensuing Bank elections confirmed Whig control there. Heathcote’s mayoralty was a turbulent time in City politics, and its early months saw a bitter struggle over the election of a Tory, John Cass*, as alderman for Portsoken ward. In September 1711 another controversy arose over an aldermanic election, after Heathcote had used his authority to gain a Whig victory in the poll for Broad Street ward. The Tory-dominated common council actually started legal proceedings against Heathcote, but the courts ruled in his favour, refusing to grant the petitioners a mandamus to force him to return their nominees. The City Tories also failed to oust him as an officer of the Honourable Artillery Company at its elections in 1711 and 1712.31

In the summer of 1712 Heathcote stubbornly opposed the peace negotiations initiated by the Harley ministry, arguing in the London common council on 12 June that the City should not address the Queen ‘about the peace’. Somewhat hypocritically, he speciously suggested that such a representation would be tantamount to meddling with the crown’s prerogative. He failed to carry his point, and two months later was reported to be in a ‘deep melancholy’ when discussing the peace settlement. Edward Harley* later cited him as one of the most active opponents of the treaty, alleging that Heathcote had declared that ‘it was not fit for Jacobite rogues to make a peace’. In April 1713 Lord Bolingbroke (Henry St. John II*) accused ‘Heathcote and other disaffected people’ of having encouraged colonial planters to petition against the French commercial treaty. In the City Heathcote continued to uphold his party’s cause, being one of the seven Whigs to walk out of the court of aldermen on 7 May in order to postpone the election of the Tory Joseph Lawrence.32

Even though the French commerce bill was the burning issue at London’s parliamentary election of October 1713, Heathcote did not stand, perhaps perceiving that his candidacy would be too controversial to serve his party’s interests. He did vote for the four anti-treaty candidates, but could not prevent a Tory victory at the polls. He met with further electoral disappointment the following spring when he was unable to obtain the governorship of the East India Company for his ally Nathaniel Gould*. Apparently the City was ‘uneasy’ at the prospect of a Bank director seizing control of the company, and even ‘the great’ Sir Gilbert was unable to prevail against its wishes. However, although now without a parliamentary seat, he still found opportunity to vent his opposition to the ministry, appearing before the Lords with other ‘Spanish merchants’ on 2 July 1714 to argue that the terms of the Anglo-Spanish commerce treaty should be improved in favour of British traders.33

The death of Anne saw a swift rehabilitation of Heathcote’s political fortunes, and he was later heralded as one of the City magistrates ‘zealous for King George’. He regained a seat in the House after standing for the government borough of Helston, and was cited as a Whig in an analysis of the new parliament. Although he was content thereafter to seek election at a succession of small boroughs, he did not neglect his interest in the capital. He regained his colonelcy of militia, and in 1715–16 was an active member of the Whig club which sought to extend the party’s influence in the metropolis. Such was his stature in early 1719 that there was even speculation that he might be awarded a peerage. He remained loyal to the Whig cause for the rest of his life, and in February 1721 was cited as one of Robert Walpole II’s* chief lieutenants in the City. In recognition of his seniority in the London corporation, he was rewarded in 1725 with the sinecure of alderman for Bridge Without. However, he did not retire gracefully, for in 1731 he backed a contentious tithe bill, which had been represented by its opponents as the work of the ‘enemies to the Church’. He had demonstrated his support for the Established Church by serving as a commissioner for building 50 new churches in the capital, but on this occasion revealed himself to be ‘a zealous friend to the rights and liberties of mankind’. The constancy of his support for the government was eventually rewarded with a baronetcy on 17 Jan. 1733, only eight days before his death.34

On his demise Heathcote was hailed as ‘the richest commoner in Great Britain’, with an estate variously estimated at between £400,000 and £700,000. Critics such as Swift and Pope were quick to censure him for avarice, the latter lampooning him as a ‘long-acred’ man. In his later years Heathcote had begun to invest in land, and his will boasted properties in seven counties as well as in London. His most significant purchase was the manor of Normanton in 1729, where by the time of his death he had erected an impressive mansion. His only surviving son John inherited his massive fortune and the baronetcy, having already emulated his father by serving as a director of the East India Company and the Bank, and by gaining election to Parliament as a Member for Grantham. Despite his reputation for miserliness, Heathcote made several important bequests to charity, most notably to St. Thomas’ Hospital, the presidency of which he had held for over a decade. Moreover, several of his acquaintances testified to his personal qualities, the Duchess of Marlborough describing him as a kind and loyal friend, while Dunton paid further tribute to his suppression of vice and his patronage of ‘the sons of the muses’. His monumental inscription at Normanton also defended his commercial reputation, proudly noting that he was ‘in his extensive trade without a lawsuit’. His vast wealth ensured that several generations of his successors followed him into the Commons, and in 1856 the fifth baronet, Sir Gilbert John Heathcote†, was honoured with the title of Baron Aveland.35

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Perry Gauci


  • 1. E. D. Heathcote, Acct. of Fam. of Heathcote, 42–43, 78.
  • 2. J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London (London and Mdx. Arch. Soc.), 87–88; Beaven, Aldermen, ii. 120.
  • 3. L. M. Penson, Colonial Agents of Brit. W. Indies, 251.
  • 4. Add. 10120, ff. 232–6; 38871 (unfol.); London Rec. Soc. xxiii. 180.
  • 5. N. and Q. clxxix. 39–40; Beaven, 120; Trans. Amer. Phil. Soc. li. 107; Jnl. Commrs. Trade and Plantations, 1718–22, p. 46;
  • 6. Recs. R. Soc. 390.
  • 7. Beaven, 120.
  • 8. J. Dunton, Life and Errors, 354; Answer to Remarks upon the Bill Concerning Tithes [1731], p. viii.
  • 9. Heathcote, 42–43, 65–66; Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 918; Macfarlane thesis, 324; Add. 70219, Compton to Ld. Oxford, 10 Nov. 1712; Dunton, 354.
  • 10. Heathcote, 82, 238; D. W. Jones, War and Econ. 263–4; H. Roseveare, Markets and Merchants, 470; EHR, lxxi. 229; G. S. De Krey, Fractured Soc. 52; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 208; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1994–5.
  • 11. CJ, x. 390, xi. 50; CSP Col. 1689–92, p. 623; 1693–6, pp. 161, 289–90; Penson, 75; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 557, 777.
  • 12. NLS, Advocates’ mss, Bank of Eng. pprs. 31.1.7, ff. 146–52; Bodl. Carte 79, f. 557; Debates and Proceedings 1694–5, pp. 11, 14; HMC Lords, n.s. ii. 21, 32.
  • 13. HMC Buccleuch, ii. 177; CSP Dom. 1695, p. 71; 1696, p. 190; Ming-Hsun Li, Gt. Recoinage, 68, 70, 80–82; Letter to Member of Parl. for Settling Guineas [1696].
  • 14. Cal. Treas. Bks. xi. 143, 362–3; Univ. London Lib. 65, item 3; Letter from Gilbert Heathcote to Friend [?1698]; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 156.
  • 15. CSP Col. 1697–8, pp. 237–8; HMC Lords, n.s. iii. 220; Heathcote, 80–81; Vernon–Shrewsbury Corresp. ii. 73; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii. 102; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 403; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 369; EHR, lxxi. 229.
  • 16. Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn coll. Biscoe-Maunsell newsletter 23 July 1698; Luttrell, iv. 485.
  • 17. Cocks Diary, 82; Cal. Treas. Bks. xvi. 47, 56, 76; Luttrell, v. 22; Post Man, 27 Feb.–1 Mar. 1701.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1700–2, pp. 320–1; Beaven, i. 224; Boyer, Anne Annals, i. 126.
  • 19. CSP Col. 1702–3, p. 660; NMM, Sergison mss 103, ff. 450–2, 455.
  • 20. A. Crawford, Hist. Vintners’ Co. 195; Newton Corresp. v. 63–64; Recs. R. Soc. 390.
  • 21. Camden Misc. xxiii. 67.
  • 22. Boyer, iv. 126; Luttrell, vi. 24, 28, 186; Add. 61135, ff. 95–107; 70421, Heathcote to Harley, 2 Jan. 1707; HMC Fortescue, i. 30.
  • 23. P. G. M. Dickson, Financial Revol. 266; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1702–7, pp. 491–2; CSP Col. 1706–8, p. 435; Boyer, vi. 263; Vernon–Shrewsbury Corresp. iii. 283, 286, 293.
  • 24. Addison Letters, 106.
  • 25. Boyer, vii. 271; Jnl. Commrs. Trade and Plantations, 1708–15, pp. 81–82.
  • 26. Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1371, 1382; Add. 61652, f. 160; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 72.
  • 27. Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(5), pp. 124–5; Wentworth Pprs. 110.
  • 28. Boyer, ix. 231–2; Luttrell, vi. 594; Wentworth Pprs. 120; Huntington Lib. Q. iii. 230; G. Holmes and W. A. Speck, Divided Soc. 136; Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 174; HMC Portland, ii. 222.
  • 29. Add. 70421, newsletter 30 Sept. 1710; Boyer, ix. 245–6; HMC Portland, ii. 222; Luttrell, vi. 635, 637.
  • 30. Boyer, ix. 250–1, 253; BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 51, Thomas Bateman to Sir William Trumbull*, 11, 13 Oct. 1710; Luttrell, vi. 641, 648; Beaven, ii. 195.
  • 31. HMC Portland, iv. 618; Camb. Univ. Lib. Chomondeley (Houghton) mss 647; De Krey, 229, 232, 235, 240, 263; Protestant Post Boy, 27–29 Nov. 1711; Modest Vindication of Sir Gilbert Heathcote [1711].
  • 32. Scots Courant, 16–18 June 1712; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Harley) mss Pw2Hy922, N. Davies to [–], 27 Aug. 1712; HMC Portland, v. 659; Bolingbroke Corresp. iv. 29; Beaven, i. 411.
  • 33. London Rec. Soc. xvii. 92; Add. 70273, M. Decker to Thomas Harley*, 2 Apr. 1714; 70070, newsletter 3 July 1714.
  • 34. Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1714–19, p. 235; London Rec. Soc. xvii. 21, 23, 36–39, 42–44; Harley mss at Brampton Bryan, bdle. 117x, Francis Gwyn* to Edward Harley, 28 Feb. 1719; HMC Portland, v. 615; Beaven, i. 67; Answer to Remarks upon Bill Concerning Tithes, p. iii; Heathcote, 82.
  • 35. Gent. Mag. 1733, p. 47; London Mag. 1733, p. 46; Hist. Reg. Chron. 1733, p. 10; Swift Corresp. ed. Ball, v. 9; Poems of Alexander Pope ed. Audra, iii(2), 97, 175; iv. 181–3; v. 129; PCC 45 Price; VCH Rutland, ii. 86–87, 245; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. ii. 148; Heathcote, 82; Dunton, 354.